Monday, 30 August 2010

One More Bench And I'll Scream...

When Christopher Schwarz started to build his recent Roubo workbench, I thought he was nuts. I appreciated it, because I have been mulling over the bench I want to build for a couple of years now, but I still thought he was nuts. Realistically, the guy has enough workbenches to fill a barn, yet here he was, building yet another one.

What didn't dawn on me at the time, but has caught up with me since, is the fact that Chris has a sixth sense when it comes to the average woodworking hobbyist's quest for knowledge. If you think this is a bit of an overstatement, check out the flood of new posts on the web about benches, many added since Chris started his latest example. It is what I call, "the Schwarz bench tsunami".

Could I read one more post about the world's most perfect workbench?

Absolutely not!

Could I write one?

You bet!

Here's the thing, my shooting board is coming together nicely. I have almost completed the prototype for the fence adjustment which I think is pretty cool, and it should be in the mail to DAEDWoRKs sometime this week. I have asked Raney to turn the final version for me, although I think he is a little skeptical that it will work. Now that I have a working model to prove he won't be wasting his time, I am hoping we can come to an agreement for its creation. Raney does amazing work with metal, his planes being what I consider to be hands above many of the others. If I can get him to agree to build it, I know his contribution to the board will make it incredibly special.

As I now have a handle on the project at hand, I can now start to think about the next one. I have chosen to build a workbench for three reasons. The first is the most obvious, you can only work without one for so long before you start to go batty. The second reason is because of the current project. This shooting board will probably become my most used tool, but with an overall size of 30" wide by 38" deep, it is a huge sucker. It is designed to mount on its own stand, but until residences change, room for that to happen will have to wait so it, at least, needs a bench to sit on. Finally, I have been going through the processes of what I want in a workbench for at least three years now, so it is about time.

The result of all of this is...

If working on a folding WorkMate these past few years has taught me nothing, at least I have learned that no matter what, a bench needs weight. My planes and I have chased that little sucker around the room long enough, thank you very much. But how do you add weight when you don't want a huge bench? Not to mention not wanting to break the bank?

My first idea was to add storage for tools under the bench. I would think that is the quickest and most economical way to add some serious weight to anything; fill it up with what you already have. I threw this idea out the window in a heartbeat, mainly because of a bench my old man and I built years ago.

The old man got this brainwave that searching for fasteners was a waste of time, especially if you could have them right were you need them - at the bench. He came up with this design for a bunch of bins along the bench front, and when we were done building it, we had a bench with three rows of eight bins, each of which tipped out to reveal what they contained. Needed a #8 by 1 1/2 screw? No problem; middle row, forth bin from the left. It really was an ingenious system, except for one thing; every time you reached in one of those bins for a screw, nail or dowel, you came up with a hand full of sawdust and shavings. Because the bins didn't seal, every bit of trash produced on top of the bench ended up in them.

I learned very quickly to hate any bench that wasn't open to the floor as you just couldn't keep them clean. My old shop had two benches and not only were both open to the floor, but their stretchers were placed a foot off the floor so I could get the ShopVac head in to clean underneath them properly. There is nothing worse than dust-catchers in a shop.

After selling the house and moving on the boat, I inherited a whopping big bench that someone had left in the yard years earlier and it had the same arrangement; a top, four legs and four stretchers. It was a great big old thing that had sat out in that yard for years and was so full of moisture that it would never dry out, but man, it weighed a ton.

I then ended up sharing a shop with a friend. He had built his benches with a shelf under each to store everything from tools to garden paraphernalia. What a mess. You just couldn't keep anything clean, no to mention find anything.

Hence, storage under a bench was definitely out, or was it?

A month or so ago I was doing some cooking in the kitchen and grabbed a knife from the drawer. When I hit the drawer face with my hip to close it, the nickel dropped.

When I put this kitchen together, I used self-closing slides for all the drawers. Checking out the Valley site, I discovered that they sold dampeners for spring loaded doors as well. If the drawers and doors can't stay open, and they have a relatively good seal when closed, I can store tools under a bench and not have to worry about the drawers and cupboards filling up with bench top waste.

Sounds like a plan to me.